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The Chosen Rosen: Exploring the caffeine craze

Published: April 8, 2011
Section: Opinions


There’s a good chance that as you are reading this article, you’ve got a ceramic coffee mug in your left (or right) hand. Or if you weren’t lucky enough to have received one of those coffee mugs with the funny sayings from a family member for the holidays (it really is the easiest gift to buy someone), you’re probably holding a paper cup filled with your ticket to caffeinated glory. Either way, you’re drinking coffee.

When I was younger, my mother used to always say: “I need my coffee to get through the day!” In fact, every adult around me would say that. From teachers to relatives to my older friends, I never could quite understand what it was about coffee that had everyone so hooked. Regardless, coffee-drinking was a sign of maturity and of adulthood; so one day I decided to try some. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.

Currently, I drink a cup of coffee every day, but I have gone on caffeine binges, where I have had as much as three or four cups in one day. Back when I was working in a coffee shop, I would drink more than that. I would spend late nights experimenting with caramel, mocha, espresso, sprinkles and whipped cream. I even invented my own drink: the “Rickaccino.” I have grown rather fond of coffee over the years.

Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love coffee. Whereas when I was young, it was mostly consumed by adults, today, kids as young as 12 or 13 drink coffee regularly. Even though there’s no age limit on drinking coffee, most parents try to keep the sacred beverage away from their kids (and their pets—although I’m always tempted to let my bird have a sip). Why is this? Coffee contains caffeine, which is a powerful stimulant. Oftentimes, we fail to realize just how potent of a substance coffee is. A 16-ounce cup of coffee in the morning has enough caffeine to provide an energy boost and increase your alertness level for up to six hours. That would probably explain why 56 percent of Americans drink coffee every morning, according to a CBS News Study.

On the whole, there’s nothing Americans love more than coffee (except maybe money). According to CoffeeResearch.org, Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day. There are roughly 300 million people in America—that includes 60 million children younger than 14, who likely aren’t drinking coffee. So that means 240 million Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee each day. By my calculations, every person older than 14 is drinking approximately 1.67 cups of coffee per day.

If that’s not enough, according to CoffeeResearch.org, regular coffee-drinking Americans consume 3.1 cups of coffee per day on average. How much caffeine is that? Well, one 16-ounce cup of coffee contains between 150 and 200 milligrams of caffeine. And so, drinking three cups of coffee per day would provide someone with anywhere between 450 and 900 milligrams of caffeine per day, and between 1050 and 2100 milligrams of caffeine per week. And people wonder why nobody sleeps anymore!

CoffeeResearch.org also reports that men drink just as much coffee as women, with each gender consuming an average of 1.6 cups per day. Furthermore, 65 percent of all coffee is consumed during breakfast hours, with 30 percent being consumed between meals and the remaining 5 percent being consumed with other meals. How do coffee drinkers take their coffee? Thirty-five percent prefer black coffee and 65 percent prefer to add sugar, cream or milk.

I personally don’t care what kind of coffee it is or where it’s from; I drink coffee for one reason and one reason only: for the energy boost it provides. Most working adults drink their daily cup of coffee before work to get them going. As for college students, we usually drink coffee late at night to finish a paper or cram for a test. And many people also drink coffee socially—a “coffee date” has become the “new” movie date (you save money not having to buy those overpriced movie tickets!).

Unfortunately, though, all we’ve ever heard about drinking coffee is that it’s bad for you. “It’ll stunt your growth!” my grandmother always used to warn me. But to the cast of the television show “Little People, Big World,” I assure you that coffee consumption is not the cause of your height, as this myth has been debunked time and time again.

In actuality, it turns out that the benefits of coffee consumption far outweigh the risks. According to WebMD, coffee drinkers are less likely than non-coffee drinkers to have type-II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and dementia. There have also been fewer cases of liver cancer, heart rhythm problems and strokes among coffee drinkers when compared with non-coffee drinkers.

Coffee has also been known to have positive effects on cognition. According to EnergyFiend.com, researchers in Japan have shown that caffeine from coffee increases memory. In tests of reaction time, verbal memory and visual-spatial reasoning, participants who regularly drank coffee performed better than non-coffee drinkers, with the tests reflecting a positive relationship between test scores and the amount of coffee consumed. Caffeine from coffee has also been proven to ease depression by increasing dopamine levels in the brain.

A study from the University of Scranton revealed that coffee is America’s No. 1 source of antioxidants, which are an important compound that protects your body from disease and help stave off cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

According to Disabled-World.com, small amounts of caffeine can also be used to help control weight, alleviate pain, open up airways for improved breathing and, most importantly, overcome chronic fatigue. Additionally, coffee increases metabolism by breaking down fat, freeing fatty acids and forcing them to be burned. Now you know why a late-night cup of coffee will have you craving Chipotle all night!

But there is truth to the notion that there are numerous drawbacks to coffee consumption. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it raises blood pressure, as well as adrenaline levels, in the body. Excessive caffeine can also induce the “jitters,” a feeling of restlessness and anxiety. Coffee also causes staining of the teeth and bad breath.

The determinant of the risk with coffee, though, is frequency of consumption. People who drink two cups of coffee per day are not at risk. According to MayoClinic, however, drinking four to seven cups of coffee per day can cause problems such as anxiety, irritability, rapid heartbeat, nausea and sleeplessness. Moreover, as your body gets used to caffeine, it can become addicted to it. Many people go through caffeine withdrawal, which occurs when the caffeine intake wears off. Symptoms of withdrawal include headaches, drowsiness, anxiety and restlessness. But it all depends on how much coffee you’re drinking. In general, moderate caffeine consumption is not dangerous. It’s when you drink an entire Box of Joe by yourself that it becomes unsafe.

And there are many circumstances when a cup of coffee is advantageous. When you have a long night of driving ahead of you, drinking coffee is preferable to sleep. EnergyFiend.com points out that caffeine protects against eyelid spasms (twitching) and helps keep your eyes open. In addition, when cramming for a test, drinking coffee is a good idea, since caffeine has been known to increase short-term recall. Try drinking coffee when you hit the gym, since caffeine has been proven to increase muscle strength. In fact, according to Energy Fiend, caffeine relieves post workout muscle pain by up to 48 percent.

Alexander Pope once mused “coffee, which makes the politicians wise, and see through all things with his half-shut eyes.” Pope, like many of his contemporary writers, enjoyed a good cup of Joe while jotting down satirical verse. Thomas Jefferson considered coffee “the favorite drink of the civilized world,” taking sips in between writing his autobiography. Today, coffee is a source of inspiration for people from all walks of life. Baseball players drink coffee before batting practice. Surgeons begin their days with a cup of coffee. Even the commander in chief himself indulges in a warm cup of presidential coffee in between meetings with the speaker of the House and the U.N. ambassador. I too am drinking coffee right now, granted I don’t have the White House chief of staff preparing it for me (nor am I sitting in the Oval Office).

The fact is that most people in America, as well as the world, enjoy their cup of coffee every day. And contrary to popular misconception, this is perfectly good for our health, assuming it is taken in moderation. In fact, Frank Hu, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health notes: “There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health.”

So whether you prefer Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, whether you take your coffee black or with 12 packs of sugar (like I do), enjoy your coffee! Espresso yourself!